Bored employee ‘above’ some assignments

by Gregory Lay, Heartily WorkingTM columnist

Master swordsman who argues
he doesn’t need to practice fundamentals
has argument full of holes


From: Bored Employee’s Supervisor

I have a talented but bored employee who has mastered his job, so he’s decided he’s ‘too good’ to do the more mundane tasks. He shrugs off assignments, saying “anybody can do that.” His long-term goal has nothing to do with the job he has or the department he’s in. How do I get him to do his job? Or do I have to keep getting somebody else to do the boring part of his job?


To: Supervisor

I don’t think you understand the concept of “mastered.” When somebody has mastered a task, they understand its value and importance, and complete the task with excellence to set an example for others.

This employee hasn’t mastered the job, he’s merely learned some techniques that he could apply – but doesn’t. To truly master his job, he must first master himself.

Consider that you are being somewhat inconsiderate to him by keeping him in a job that has nothing to do with his long-term goal, and one that’s teaching him bad habits to boot. He has a choice to make – to work or not to work – and it’s your responsibility to define that choice.

When somebody won’t do their job, the traditional solution is to replace them with somebody who will do the job. Before you go down that road, here are six tactics to try to see if he will rejoin your team.

Keep Your Tone Polite

Be sure that each time you assign or follow-up on a task, you have a courteous, adult-to-adult demeanor. If you permit your annoyance to show through, you take a chance that his poor attitude is fed by rebellion against your attitude.

Ask Employee What Would Work for Him

You’re unlikely to come up with the perfect plan for this employee on your own, so go to the expert. Part of your coaching and counseling responsibility is to motivate him to meet established standards. It’s okay to admit to him that you need some help with this and ask what he’d do in your situation.

He might have a workable suggestion – if he even comes anywhere near close, give it a shot. If he offers only self-serving ideas that don’t solve the problem, then you continuously reinforce the standards and keep the door open for better ideas.

Take Away the Fun

Don’t permit him to dictate what he wants to do, leaving you to assign what he doesn’t want to do to somebody else. If he hasn’t completed a portion of his task, leave that unfinished task on his plate and (“Since you haven’t had time to finish this project…”) re-assign the more interesting tasks to somebody else.

Will that make him angry? Bet on it! He’ll be as angry as a spoiled child that doesn’t get to watch television until his homework is finished. But at the end of the school year, the child that’s done his homework is better off than the one who was allowed to choose how to spend his time and chose to spend it unwisely.


Since he thinks he’s mastered the job, see if he’ll demonstrate his mastery to somebody else who needs to learn that job. Make it clear that this person is not a personal assistant who can be given those tasks he wants to ignore – he must demonstrate the full range of his skill.

Dangling Carrot

Find a project that’s relevant to his long-term goal and offer to let him spend up to 25% of his time on that project as long as every part of his current job is current. If he drops the ball on the details of his daily responsibilities, then he’s dropped the ball on his preferred project at the same time. He may not work on enterprise projects until assigned projects are completed.

Close Watch

Require reports much too often for comfort – such as before lunch break and again before the end of day, detailing what’s done and what isn’t done. You’ll hate spending your time monitoring this over-reporting, but not as much as he’ll hate giving the reports. He’ll either start doing the job, or provide you with the hard evidence needed to terminate him.

This is an unpleasant task that he’ll try to ignore – and you’ll need to be clear that it would be insubordinate to refuse to follow your explicit directions.

The first two tactics are mandatory – always be in control of your attitude and always ask the problem employee for a solution. The other tactics are optional. Try two or three plus a couple of your own invention. If nothing works, one of you is working in the wrong place.

As for this employee’s long-term goal, what kind of job does he want that permits him to disrespect his colleagues, do an incomplete job, and ignore his boss? If he decides to respond to your needs, he’ll actually move himself closer to his goal. And if not…


Memo from comedian Slappy White: “The trouble with unemployment is that the minute you wake up in the morning, you’re on the job.”

JobWise: Names improve listening

When giving information to somebody, say their name before you start to deliver content. The other person probably wasn’t thinking about the topic you’re talking about, so they’ll stay mentally focused on what they were already thinking about while you talk.

Hearing their name causes them to re-focus on the speaker. You have a much better chance of delivering your message to somebody you’ve just called by name – especially if you were smiling as you said it.

© 2009 Heartily WorkingTM

Gregory Lay’s Heartily WorkingTM responds to your questions about workplace concerns. Send your questions to